DOWNTOWN — For those mocking the San Francisco native whose essay about a miserable few years in Chicago went viral: He's laughing with you.
Well, some of you. Eric Barry, the writer of the much-criticized piece, knows he's gotten hate for his essay, but he's been able to laugh at some of the jokes made at his expense and has gotten responses from people who experienced similar problems.
"I think that it’s important the people engage in a dialogue with people who hold different views than their own," said Barry, a comedian, writer and advocate for sex workers. "I know, in my experience, it got to be very lonely and isolating in Chicago, and it seems like any expression of that was nonexistent. ... I decided to write about that experience."
Barry moved out of Chicago on Sept. 2; on Tuesday, the Huffington Post published his "goodbye letter" to the city. The piece chronicled Barry's 3½ years here, with him writing about having trouble meeting people, facing serious injuries in the city and struggling with transportation. He now lives in New York.
"Chicago seemed like a place so full of hope and promise" after moving from San Francisco in 2014, Barry wrote. "But three some odd years later, my own spirit, just like my body, have come to feel beaten, defeated."
Barry, who lived in Logan Square and Buena Park, said the piece initially generated an "overwhelming outpouring of positive comments" from people who'd faced similar problems.
"People [were] like, 'Oh my God, why hasn't anyone said this before? This speaks volumes to my own experience,'" Barry said Friday.
Commenters told Barry they'd been met by "snickering" and negative responses when they'd tried to talk about their own concerns with life in Chicago, Barry said. The response was "really encouraging," he said, and he went to bed early Thursday.
That night, the piece went viral.
Barry woke up to a phone full of notifications and numerous responses to his essay on Twitter. Many tweets showed people mocking or denouncing Barry's gripes with Chicago.
If you can't make a friend in the Midwest, YOU are the issue. Also, stop looking for love in bars. https://t.co/dvODwnHvc7— Larry Brown (@badbadleroyb) September 8, 2017
I love how everyone in Chicago is passing around that post on Medium and they laugh and laugh and laugh— Darth Molly (@eris404) September 8, 2017
If you haven't seen it, this is said "Goodbye Chicago" nonsense and hoooooo boy is it a Very Bad Take© https://t.co/b0Pn7xv5Li— Tyler Lockman (@TylerLockman) September 8, 2017
Chicago never wanted this dude to live here https://t.co/C9Frc3W0Qz what a loser— Sara Labelle (@saralabellesays) September 8, 2017
The essay continued to be shared and lambasted on social media throughout the day Friday.
Barry could laugh at some of the responses, he said, even finding humor in a stranger going through his years-old Facebook photos just to comment, "You're fugly," on one. He said he continued to receive positive comments from people who'd struggled with life in Chicago and appreciated his essay.
And Barry said he was happy to hear from people who'd had a different experience with Chicago than he'd had.
"I'm not all gripes and whining," Barry said. "I have a sense of humor about this stuff, and I love talking to people about it."
But some people directed homophobic and sexist slurs at Barry, and he deactivated his Twitter account Friday. That action was also mocked on social media.
Since then, people have been sending comments — negative and positive — to Barry's email.
"I am happy to engage in a conversation. I really embrace doing that with people," Barry said. "But, you know, doing so on social media in 140 characters — there's no room for context or nuance and, ultimately, an intelligent dialogue in that forum."
One portion of the essay that's faced heavy criticism is Barry's description of meeting several women in a Lincoln Park bar. Barry walked up to them and introduced himself, he wrote. One of the women was chatting with him when a friend of hers told Barry, "Just so you know: We're all taken."
Barry said he was offended by the woman's comment and found it "super abrasive" and "snappy," so he was abrasive and snappy in response.
"Just so you know, I don't want to f--- any of you," Barry retorted, he wrote in the Huffington Post.
Dude has issues with women, not Chicago. He mentions women SO many times and it's always a mean comment about them. https://t.co/5T0Z0UzNkc— Abby H (@killrbreeze) September 8, 2017
(A woman who said she was involved in the incident wrote her own take and criticized Barry's actions on Medium.)
Barry said he'd meant for that portion of the essay to show the problems he'd had with meeting new people in Chicago and the resulting isolation he felt. He was used to approaching strangers and introducing himself as a way of meeting people and making friends in San Francisco, he said.
"I was so kind of appalled ... [thinking,] 'Why are you even assuming that's what this conversation is about?' I found that offensive," Barry said. "I'm coming to you honestly to be like, 'I don't know anyone here. Is it cool if we talk? If not, I'll totally f--- off.'"
The isolation Barry felt — stemming from incidents like that at the bar, his lack of access to a car and the differences between San Francisco and Chicago — continued to plague him throughout his time in the city. Barry said he's seen that feeling echoed in the positive comments he's gotten from readers.
"I will say, that continued to be something I struggled with, was approaching strangers and meeting them in the same way that I was used to in San Francisco," Barry said. Chicago "is more reserved [than San Francisco]. It is more conservative than what I'm used to — I don't just mean politically; I mean behaviorally."
But Barry said there were things he liked about Chicago: the hum of cicadas, the balconies, the proximity to other cities, the entrepreneurial spirit and architecture.
"There was so much that I enjoyed there," Barry said. "I had the best improv experience of my life there. I'm a huge comedy person and respect the performers there so much. They're incredible.
"I love the weather. I genuinely liked seasons and the changing of them. The snow never fazed me. The cold never fazed me."
Later, Barry added: "And I met some really great people, people who were inspiring and hilarious and intelligent and will be friends for the rest of my life."